Dolly Alm won’t stop until she achieves her dreams.

Throughout her whole life, Alm has dreamed of working for NASA and helping facilitate future human life in space. She wants to help by working with the well-being, motivation and team dynamics of NASA staff. Now, her dream is within reach. 

But it hasn’t come easy. 

Alm had her first son when she was in high school. He was about 3 years old when she started her first year of college to become a nurse. Her grandmother helped her attend classes and raise a child. But after she passed away, Alm was left to be a full-time caregiver — while also taking classes and working full-time.

“You know that saying, ‘Once you take a break, you’re most likely not going to go back?’” Alm said. “I do fall into that scenario — because life happened.”

Now 39, Alm is a junior working toward a degree in organizational behavior, a major she designed through specialized studies. She studies psychology within an organization, or human behavior in the workplace, and wants to enter into grad school for industrial and organizational psychology.

However, her dream remains the same: to work for NASA. It wasn’t until she took the strategic leadership onboarding class with Kim Jordan that she started to turn those dreams into a reality. 

In the course, Jordan created a project where students experience strategy by creating one for themselves and their professional development. In the project, students were asked to look at an industry and identify what their dream job would be and where they are now in terms of getting there. 

Jordan’s job is to figure out how to close the gap between where her students are today and where they need to be to fulfill their dreams.

“Dolly has a big dream,” Jordan said. “She was willing to engage with that dream. She is a slightly non-traditional student — slightly older, so I think she comes back to school with a real passion for ‘How can I make this happen?’”

After speaking with Alm about her specific desired work for NASA, Jordan encouraged her to shake out the Bobcat tree and see if she could find some connections in the industry. What they found in their search for closing the gap was the L’SPACE program. 

The NASA L’SPACE program is a free, online, interactive program open to undergraduate STEM students interested in pursuing a career with NASA. There are two academies: Mission Concept Academy and the NASA Proposal Writing and Evaluation Experience Academy. 

Alm is participating in the 12-week Proposal Writing and Evaluation Experience Academy. Students get partnered in a team and work together to write a proposal for technology that NASA currently needs. At the end of the program, the winning proposal and team receive $10,000 to proceed with the concept. 

Though receiving admittance into this program doesn’t guarantee an internship, Alm says it’s an important tool to have on her resume when NASA reviews her internship application in the future. 

“What I hope to get out of this is a skill set because I’ve never participated in proposal writing, which will be necessary for me to receive grants in the future for research that I’m doing and working with NASA,” Alm said. “And it’s just interesting, the amount of creativity and thoughts and how the team works together to visualize these ideas and work together to make that happen. It’s actually a phenomenal experience.” 

James Richards, Alm’s oldest son, is proud to watch his mom achieve her dreams, and is happy that she didn’t give up.

“Honestly, my mom’s always proven to me that she can do whatever she puts her mind to,” Richards said. “So it’s still amazing that she goes out there and does all she does, but she’s always proven to me that if she wants to do it, she can do it.” 

Jordan is not only proud to watch one of her students succeed, but also knows Alm’s story is symbolic for many other people.

“For every student on this campus, there’s a part of Dolly in them,” Jordan said. “Some students could use a little more help in bringing out that part of themselves that really does dream big and wants to have somebody help them and have a process to connect their big dream to making it happen. I hope that people read her story and see it also as an opportunity for themselves.” 

As for Alm, she’s just excited to be taking tangible steps to achieve her ambition.

“Being 39 and trying to do this now, I’m so focused on me,” Alm said. “Because I think it’s time. I put everybody before me and now It’s just my time, and it’s coming together so nicely, and it’s just really exciting.”